By R. Randal Riebe On October 21, 2009
Economic challenges continue to be the hot media topic both inside and outside of our industry. With these current struggles you would assume that most businesses would be focused on doing anything and everything they could to keep sales afloat. Well do I have a story for you...
Once upon a time we decided to update our house. It was something that we had been discussing for some time and it was definitely overdue. Our timing appeared to be right—material prices were down, labor was available, and most firms appeared to be looking for work. As often happens, our little project seemed to take on a life of its own and magically expanded to encompass a complete redo of about 50 percent of the house.
After performing our due diligence, we provided a scope of work to three eager prime contractors. Over the next couple of weeks our house became a revolving door of estimators that encompassed almost every known trade. The estimates were tallied and within a remarkably short period of time we had what appeared to be three competitive bids on our desk. All three bidders indicated that, with the appropriate down payment, they could start within a week!
After an exhaustive review of the proposals, we had a low bidder that we felt just O.K. about, one in the middle that missed some of the work we had requested, and a high bidder that had impressed us with the thoroughness of their response. In our minds we had eliminated the middle bid and were down to a pros and cons analysis of the remaining two contractors.
During our analysis stage we received one voicemail from the middle bidder wanting to know what it would take to get the project going. Of course it appeared that he was looking at the wrong quote because he was referring to things that weren’t in our project. We had zero contact with the low bidder—no snail mail, no email and no telephone calls. The high bidder sent several emails and placed multiple follow-up calls offering to answer questions, review details, etc. Throughout these conversations we continued to become more comfortable with this contractor and eventually signed the contract with them.
Throughout this process I was continually amazed at the quantity of basic sales principles ignored during the proposal stage. Selling in a tough economy often requires a different approach than during good time, but the basics of effective sales follow-up always remain the same.
Return email and telephone requests within 24 hours: I often hear people say, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you, I was out of the office on business.” What sense does that make? Returning calls can be done between meetings, in taxis, or at airports. They only take a minute, and if you indicate that you only have a moment but wanted to get back to them right away, you position yourself to have them provide a callback time that works best for them.
If you return their call and get voicemail, leave a message that you are in meetings, traveling, etc., but ask them to call you back and leave a message with best time for you to get in touch with them.
For emailed inquiries, respond the same day and then place a call indicating you have replied and invite them to contact you directly if they have additional questions or needs.
Never make assumptions: Location, company size, and physical appearances often lead sales people to make assumptions about an individual’s or company’s ability to buy. Small companies can turn out to be your biggest and best customers.
Be realistic in your promises: Whether it is an agreed upon time to return a call or provide a proposal, deliver on time. If an emergency arises, call your prospect early and reschedule or ask for an extension.
Create a process: This is a great exercise to fine-tune your follow-up skills. Spend a few minutes thinking about how you handle follow-up contact from prospects. Do you have a formal process of scheduling follow-up, or do you have sticky notes scattered around your desk? Create a process and it won’t slip through the cracks.
People view follow-up, or the lack thereof, as a sign of what really matters to someone. It demonstrates that they are focused and have discipline. During tough economic times your prospects are far too busy trying to keep their business afloat, so don’t expect a second chance if you don’t follow up.
R. Randal Riebe (Randy.Riebe@tandberg. com) is the region sales manager, Western U.S., for Tandberg.